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Reconciling Difference

Title: Reconciling Difference — Beyond Collective Violence in India

Author: Rudolf C. Heredia

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books, 2021

“When the British Imperialists left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, they left behind a legacy of governance based on communal and ethnic polarization. Since then, India has been engulfed by religious and ethnic violence—from the Partition to the more recent Gujarat riots of 2002 and Delhi riots of 2020. This trajectory is in direct opposition to the ideals of ‘justice, liberty, equality and fraternity’ enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Our increasingly polarized society is now faced with the question: Will India follow the ethnic nationalist route that seems to be becoming a global phenomenon?” enquires the blurb of this remarkable book.

Reconciling Difference — Beyond Collective Violence in India by Rudolf C. Heredia is an attempt by an anxious citizen and academic to understand the nature of hate and violence prevalent in India. It is also an effort to find practical ways to restore peace and harmony–so essential to present turbulent times.

A leading sociologist and thinker, Heredia is an independent writer and researcher. Based in Mumbai, he taught sociology at St Xavier’s College, where he was the founder director of the Social Science Centre. With a keen interest on issues related to religion, education and globalization, Heredia has authored Changing Gods: Rethinking Conversion in India andTaking Sides: Reservation Quotas and Minority Rights.

In the preface to the book, Heredia writes: “Violence has no borders. It is like a forest fire which once lit, even if by an accidental spark, in a dry, hot summer drought burns out of control, fanned by the wind until the entire forest is gone. It must then wait for the next rains to restore it. If the rain fails, desertification will inevitably follow.”  

He continues: “But first the crisis must be recognized before it can be addressed, the problem understood, before a resolution can be attempted. The urgency of the present emphatically suggests that collective violence in India, with its brutalizing horrors, is now becoming the new normal.”

In this in-depth study, Heredia urges citizens to seek contexts beyond punitive justice. What he suggests is returning to the Gandhian ideas of ahimsa — non-violence and compassion — in order to heal the fraying fabric of the society. While doing so, he recalls Nehru’s ideas of a pluralist and inclusive India, as well as Ambedkar’s idea of the republic.

With eight reasonable and coherent chapters, Heredia inspires the readers to undertake a politico-historical journey — the way promises were broken and hopes betrayed, the cultural/psychic/political roots of the “spiraling violence”. In this quest, he feels the need to understand Gandhi as “a new hermeneutic is needed to dialogue with Gandhi’s counter-culture and its basic themes of swaraj, swadeshi and satya”.

Relying heavily on pedagogy, Heredia is unfaltering in his conviction. He feels intensely about restoring the country’s damaged polity. Drawing inspiration from the Truth and Justice Commission set up in post-Apartheid South Africa, he urges steady and thoughtful discourses between polarized citizens in order to heal the past wounds of collective violence. Drawing on India’s history, the Constitution and even contemporary initiatives, he shows us how we can bring a healing touch to close the fault lines in our society.

Sample this: “If this dream of peace is to become a reality, we must divest ourselves of a great deal of the presumptions and pre-options we have been, and still are being socialized into by exclusive communal identities and religious fundamentalisms, national extremists and radical rationalism.”

What distinguishes this volume from other such works is its ability to persuade the reader to see the disgruntlements of the times we are living in, comprehend the pathology of the limiting identities, cultivate the art of dialogue, understand plurality and differences, and move towards peace.

Heredia concludes the book by saying: “We need to deconstruct this ideology of exclusion and the politics of hate. We need a struggle, a jihad, a crusade, a padayatra for the idea of a sovereign, democratic secular socialist India. We need to sow the good seed of meaningful, relevant, liberating humane cultural and religious traditions for a hundredfold harvest of a harmonious peace, premised on tolerance and justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. For if we stop dreaming peace, we will stop dreaming India.”

Written in a florid yet graspable language, the argument put forward is persuasive and convincing. Far from being a hypothetical one, the 300 plus paged book is observant, dialogic and meticulously researched and with a touch of contemporariness. Heredia offers solutions to every problem and every delinquent behavior. Coming as it is from a renowned sociologist-activist, this book is an essential read, especially for those who are concerned about preserving the secular and democratic ideals of India.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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